When she was 6 or 7 or a length too long to bend into a grocery cart I stood in the parking lot, defeated. I was a single mom then and Ashlyn didn’t just wander, she ran. Or she didn’t just run she pulled her fingers along every item at eye level, collecting some, knocking some down, wailing as I bargained with her to put something back. It was all too much, I pictured our cupboards emptying as my mind filled. We drove home without a single grocery.
One of my closest friends has two boys with autism. I have watched her unload them from her vehicle, clinging to one while holding her leg across her van door to keep the other from escaping. If she doesn’t move quickly they will be off to whatever catches their twinkling eyes, undoubtedly in different directions.
On Sunday, her beautiful five year old boy followed his curious eyes right out of their home and past the garage door. She and her husband were both home but it only takes a second. That second when one of you knows the other is playing with your son and the other knows that you are feeding him lunch and he is in neither place. By the time the police arrived she was frantic. A neighbor had offered to look for him and her husband was searching as well. Officers spotted her son nearing a busy road but they did not approach him, for fear of his reaction. He weighs all of forty pounds, was barefoot and balancing his prized beanie babies but a police officer was scared off by the word autism.
My friend’s neighbor got to her son first, she comforted him until she could pass him safely to his mom. Today they are ordering alarms for their doors and combing through reviews for safety locks and introducing their boys to every person in the neighborhood while they try to shake off the could have been‘s.
This little boy walked/ran through a neighborhood full of adults, headed for something that caught his eye or a place he couldn’t quite communicate and no one stopped him. No one went out of their way to pause for a barefoot little guy running past with beanie babies in hand. The police didn’t help, only a kind-hearted neighbor came to their aide.
Maybe we do need more autism awareness. Maybe we need better training and more communication and plans to make sure that everyone, EVERY.ONE. understands how autism can affect a family. It may not be your child but it is one in every 50 children so it IS your neighbor’s child, your daughter’s schoolmate, the boy on your son’s soccer team. It takes a village. An understanding, empathetic village who doesn’t mind taking a step out of their comfort zone to make sure a little boy doesn’t take so many steps past his own.
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William Wehrli says
Jessica, I really enjoyed your blog. I’ve been autistic most of my life. I used to run and hide away, mainly because I didn’t like to be in large crowds, or because I wanted a quiet space so that could imagine myself in my own fantasy world of Star Wars. I didn’t like to be around groups of people who would see me day dreaming of Star Wars. Plus I didn’t know how to interact or socialize with people at the time. Being alone in my own fantasy world helped me to relax. It’s good to read about something that helps me reflect back on my childhood times.
You’re absolutely right and I know it because I need it. Because I wouldn’t know what to do. I mean if I saw a child wandering by himself barefoot down the street I would know what to do. But if that child ran away or reacted in a way I didn’t understand. I don’t know what I would do then. But I want to. And we should all want to know.
OMG..my nephew did that when he was a bit younger and was undiagnosed. He would be halfway down the road (in the middle of it) before they realized he was gone. He did it in the night too. They put those locks on the doors but he figured how to break out of them.
The town ended up putting up an autism sign to alert residents that there is a child with autism in the area. Fabulous idea.
I am so glad that beanie babies and bare feet is ok – how scary. I can’t wrap my mind around why the police officer did not help. I so wish the world was a kinder place. xo
I can’t even imagine. And what is wrong with that police officer?!
Oh Jessica, my heart was in my throat reading this. I’m so relieved this story has a happy ending and that you were able to make this a wonderful lesson in awareness for all of us.
Corey Feldman says
So true, it does take a village and their is just way to much misinformation about autism out there. That police officer should get some special needs training. That is so upsetting he just stood there. My kids aren’t on the spectrum, but they are old enough to unlock and open doors and young enough that even though they no better I scared they will do it someday.
This happened to us! My husband was cooking and I went for a walk. Our Sammy (4 at the time with autism) didn’t want to go. I left and went for a walk. My husband had his head down and didn’t notice Sammy go out the back door to play in the driveway. My new neighbors (we had just moved in) were aware Sammy is autistic. One of them was outside and watched Sammy. He had never seen Sam unattended before. He sat outside waiting for one of us to come out and then he noticed Sammy getting closer to the street. Cars started coming and something in his heart made him go and grab our son before he walked into the street. I thank God that my neighbor noticed something funny and took the time to bring my son back inside to my husband. I have no idea what could have happened had he not taken the time to do that. Sammy could have gotten lost or worse.
Oh my gosh, so scary. I’m so glad that neighbor took action and did something.
Like your friend I have 2 small children with autism. One I’d classify as a runner, the other a quiet wanderer. We need to take some of the same safety measures as she is working on soon. It’s a frightening thought.
Thanks for writing such an excellent post on such an important topic.
Elaine A. says
So important, Jessica! Both your message and for us to help everyone, no matter what. I am so glad to know that the neighbor found him but you just NEVER know…
So important a message! Especially for special needs kids but also for all kids….my two oldest are only 12 months apart! Taking them ANYWHERE when they were little was an ordeal and I was constantly worried one would escape. I wish we ALL had the “it takes a village” attitude to parenting instead of the suspicious nervous eye towards others. Most of us with older kids would be thrilled to help out the frantic mom at the store while she checks out or goes pee….if only those actions were acceptable instead of fear inducing.
This is so scary. When did we, as a society, stop watching out for all the kids and not just our own? I want to say that I would have stopped him or asked where he was going, and I want to believe that it’s true. I hope so, I really do.
Kathy at kissing the frog says
This is so important – I will definitely share!!
I remember when my twins were little – trying to block one with my foot while getting the other one in or out of the car in a parking lot. This is an important lesson for all of us to help watch each other’s children!